Believe it or not, the All-Star Break is right around the corner. After wrapping up a series in Chattanooga against the Lookouts, the Generals have just ten more games until the midpoint of the 2017 campaign.
After a quick 19-9 start to the season, the Generals have slowed down some. Going into the finale in Chattanooga Thursday night, the team is just a game above .500 and 3.5 games back in the North Division. The team is still alive for a playoff spot, but they’ll need to make a run quickly.
Even with the team scuffling some, things have been good around the Generals. We were fortunate enough to have both Tony La Russa and Mike Bell in town for the series against Mississippi. La Russa doesn’t need much of an introduction, especially in West Tennessee. He ranks third all-time in managerial wins among MLB skippers, has three World Series Rings and is in the Hall of Fame. He has been in Arizona’s front office since 2014.
La Russa could not have been nicer or more welcoming. I know the coaches and players enjoyed having him around. He took ample time to chat with me in the interview below.
Mike Bell is the Vice President, Player Development for the D-backs. He is in charge of all things minor leagues in the organization. I spoke with him about some of the standout performers for the Generals in the First Half of the season and what we can expect to see as the year goes on.
The 2017 Southern League All-Star Game is Tuesday, June 20 in Pensacola. Six Generals were named to the initial North Division roster earlier this week. Congrats to those guys!
A lot is new for the Generals in 2017. The team is in its first year of a brand new affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks after three years as Seattle’s Double-A affiliate. While the team is coming off a 2016 Southern League Championship, none of the Generals actually played for the team last season.
Something that is the same–at least in the early going–is very good baseball. The Generals opened up the season with four wins out of five versus Birmingham. The team’s starters combined to allow just three earned runs in 26 innings (1.04 ERA), and the offensive numbers are staggering. The Generals lead the Southern League in average (.348), home runs (10), doubles (14), hits (65) and runs (43).
Five games is much too soon to draw any meaningful conclusions, but those numbers are mighty impressive. Every General had at least three hits over the first four games, so it’s not just one or two guys. But there were some truly impressive performances over the weekend.
We saw some prodigious power from Tyler O’Neill last year. I would not want to saddle anyone this early with being compared to the 2016 Southern League MVP, but even O’Neill did not do what Kevin Cron did on Saturday night. Cron hit three home runs in one game, becoming the first General to do so since 2013.
Cron hit a solo blast in the second inning off of top White Sox prospect Michael Kopech. With the team down 7-4 in the eighth inning, he hit another solo shot to bring the Generals within two. He completed the trifecta with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game and force extras. Jackson would lose in extras 8-7 despite the heroic effort at the plate.
I got a chance to speak with Kevin about the feat. It was the first time as a pro he had hit three home runs in a game even though he led the Southern League with 26 bombs last year.
That wasn’t it for Cron, either. In his first at-bat on Sunday, the slugger went yard again. It was the fourth time in six at-bats that he homered.
Stewart Ijames and Dawel Lugo each went deep twice, while Colin Walsh and Cron added one apiece. The team scored in each of its first seven trips to the plate. Every General had at least one hit and a run scored, while seven knocked in a run.
Had Birmingham centerfielder Hunter Jones not made a spectacular diving catch to rob Jamie Westbrook of a potential walk-off double Saturday night, the Generals would likely be undefeated. Alas, they’ll settle for 4-1.
The Generals embark on their first road trip of 2017 Wednesday. Fittingly, it will be to Mobile. The BayBears had been Arizona’s Double-A affiliate for the past decade prior to this year. Sixteen of the 27 players to begin the season with the Generals spent time with Mobile last year.
The BayBears are now an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels had been in Little Rock, Arkansas. Now the Arkansas Travelers are home to Seattle’s Double-A club, bringing everything full circle (as the Generals/Diamond Jaxx had been affiliated with the Mariners for the previous ten seasons).
So the series features the only two teams in the circuit to change affiliations this offseason. And Mobile features the only truly new team in the Southern League, as the Angels had been a part of the eight-team Texas League from 2001 to 2016. We all caught up?
Anyways, should be a fun time. Hope you can tune in on Radio Willie in Jackson and online via the TuneIn Radio App. Wednesday’s game gets started at 6:35 pm CT.
Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day is set for next Thursday, April 6th. Before the lights come on, Brandon and I sat down to introduce (or re-introduce) ourselves, chat about the Generals’ new affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and highlight what we enjoy about the early part of the baseball year. Jeff Wiser, a.k.a. @OutfieldGrass24, was our first 2017 guest on the Generally Speaking Podcast, and he brought some color to a lot of the ideas we had about the new affiliation.
No, it’s not the same kind of miracle as the 2016 Jackson Generals, a team that won the Southern League championship one year after finishing tied for last place. But it is a miracle in the sense that misery and emptiness can turn into fulfillment and good will. That self-described miracle’s name? Darryl Strawberry.
Hello again! It has been too long since we’ve posted here. Things have been a little busy recently, but the good news is the Generals are still scoring more runs than the other team! Jackson is off Tuesday, and right now the Generals are atop the Southern League with a 27-17 record.
Much of the team’s success is coming at home. The Generals are 17-6 at The Ballpark at Jackson after winning 23 home games all of last season. The team is 5-0 in home series after winning just four series in West Tennessee last year. The turnaround has been remarkable.
The team is coming off taking four of five from Chattanooga. The Generals finally got a comfortable 7-0 win in Monday’s finale, but the team has made a habit of winning close games this year. They are 16-6 in games decided by two runs or fewer. On Sunday, it was Tim Lopes completing a comeback from three runs down with a walk-off single in the 11th.
On Monday, the team won by more than three runs for the first time since May 5. The team’s ability to win six of 12 in a stretch where it failed to score more than four in a game is quite impressive. The offense seemed to find itself in the finale thanks in large part to D.J. Peterson who had three hits including this moonshot.
If Peterson starts to hit like he has been consistently, the offense goes from good to great. In the last four games of Jackson’s series against Chattanooga, Peterson went 8-for-16 with two doubles, a home run and three RBI. He raised his average from .213 to .242.
The Generals embark on a big road trip Wednesday morning. The team currently leads Montgomery by 3.5 games in the North Division. The Generals and Biscuits are set to play six games in Montgomery before Jackson plays five against the Tennessee Smokies. This trip will play a big role in whether or not the Generals can win the First Half.
The offense came through against Chattanooga, but the pitching has been splendid of late for the Generals. Monday’s win was the team’s seventh shutout of the season, the most of any team in the Southern League. Ryan Yarbrough pitched seven scoreless frames to give the Generals their 17th quality start of the season. Last year, Jackson had 11 shutouts and 29 quality starts all season long.
Jackson has lowered its team ERA to 3.51, good for fourth-best in the league. Three pitchers — Dylan Unsworth, Ryan Yarbrough and Edwin Diaz — rank among the top ten in the league in earned run average.
The staff has a new look, as top pitching prospect Edwin Diaz was moved to the bullpen at the beginning of the month. This move surprised some, but his stuff plays up in relief and I think he has a real shot to make it to the majors later this season. The early returns are good. In six outings, the lanky right-hander has allowed just an unearned run on three hits while striking out 11 and walking no one. This is a guy that hadn’t pitched in relief since 2012, his first year as a pro.
David caught up with Edwin and talked to him about the adjustment and some of the changes he has had to make.
Diaz is getting used to pitching more regularly, as he appeared in games one, three and five of the series against the Lookouts.
The staff managed to get even stronger Tuesday, as the Mariners announced that righty Andrew Moore would be making the jump to Double-A from Bakersfield. Moore led the California League in ERA (1.65), WHIP (0.90) and average against (.188) at the time of his promotion. Seattle took Moore with the 72nd overall pick in last year’s draft out of Oregon State.
Moore gets the ball in game one of the big series between the Generals and Biscuits. It’ll be exciting to see him in a high-pressure situation. Lets hope the Generals can put some distance between themselves and the anthropomorphic breakfast food.
Things continue going well for the Generals. As of this post, the team sits atop the North Division by 2.5 games over Montgomery and their 16-8 mark is only a half-game behind Biloxi for the best record in the Southern League.
Three players — Tyler O’Neill, Zach Shank and Tim Lopes — have active on-base streaks of at least 16 games. The rotation has turned in nine quality starts over the team’s first 24 games, which is the same total the team had in the entire First Half last year.
I could go on and one. Seriously. The stats that illustrate the turnaround from last year to this year are remarkable, but I don’t really feel like writing a novel at the moment. The architect of the change throughout the organization is Seattle’s new Director of Player Development Andy McKay. He stopped in Jackson last week and took the time to talk to me. It’s an interesting interview if you have the time.
Rick Waits was also in town. After spending the past two seasons as Seattle’s big league pitching coach, Waits is the minor league pitching coordinator. David got to pick his brain.
With a win tonight, the Generals would equal the number of home victories they had in the First Half last year. This is the last series for the team at home before May 19, as the squad heads on the road for 11 games starting Monday.